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New Medieval Books: The Emperor and the Elephant

The Emperor and the Elephant: Christians and Muslims in the Age of Charlemagne

By Sam Ottewill-Soulsby

Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0-691-22796-2

A book on medieval diplomacy, it is a case study of Carolingian relations with the Islamic world, particularly the Abbasids in the Middle East and the Umayyads in Iberia. It is a fascinating account of political relations revealing a more complex situation than has previously been thought.


It is intended to examine the reasons why Charlemagne and his family sometimes made common cause with Muslim rulers and what the consequences of these dealings were. It is also intended to bring those Muslim rulers more fully into the foreground and understand their motivations for involving themselves with the Franks, to make them more than the supporting cast in the background of the story of Charlemagne. The chapters that follow will consider both the physical practicalities of this diplomacy and the mentalities of the people involved.


Who is this book for?

One of our favourite books so far in 2023, this offers a sophisticated look at diplomacy in the Middle Ages. Ottewill-Soulsby is arguing against the previously held idea that the Carolingians were friendly with the Abbasids (and vice-versa) because they both had the same adversaries – the Byzantines and the Umayyads. In doing so, he offers a much richer understanding of diplomacy and politics in the Early Middle Ages.

This book will be a valuable addition for those interested in the history of diplomacy and international politics. Moreover, it should be read by those researching the Carolingian Dynasty or Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages.


The author:

Sam Ottewill-Soulsby is a Senior Researcher at the University of Oslo, where his research revolves around the Early Middle Ages in a global context. You can learn more about his work from his university webpage or, and follow Sam on X/Twitter.

You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website

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